Norquay gondola possible link in transportation hub

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An aerial gondola from Mount Norquay to the Banff townsite is no longer pie in the sky now that the Waterous family has taken over full ownership of the local ski hill.

Adam and Jan Waterous, want to develop a 600-stall intercept parking lot as part of major redevelopment plans for lands they lease from Canadian Pacific Railway, took full control of Mount Norquay ski hill, Thursday (March 1).

Through their personal financial holding company, Liricon Capital, the Waterous’ plan to develop a transportation hub on the dilapidated railway lands at the west entrance to town, with the potential return of passenger rail from Calgary and a possible gondola.

“I can’t at this point tell you that we are going to put a gondola in, but I can say for the last two years we have, with our former partners, been conducting a feasibility study,” said Jan Waterous.

“Once we complete that feasibility study, that is something we will consider. It is a big economic ticket, so we will have to look at the math around that and make sure it’s something that makes sense.”

The 2010 management plan for Banff National Park allows for a feasibility study for a gondola from Mount Norquay to the Banff townsite, or in the vicinity, to be explored by the ski hill.

Norquay’s guidelines for development and use speak more specifically to a gondola proposal which would be located mostly outside of the ski hill’s lease.

There are several issues associated with construction of a gondola, including parking in the community and crossing the Trans-Canada Highway, but the original idea was to reduce human use in the Cascade wildlife corridor and contribute to mass transportation in Banff, which sees increasing congestion as millions of tourists flock to the national park every year.

“Decreasing the number of vehicles on the road (i.e. with more buses, gondola) would reduce disturbance and displacement of wildlife,” according to the site guidelines in reference to Norquay Road, which cuts through a critical travel route for wildlife.

“As such, this potential initiative could represent an environmental improvement if it were to replace a substantial amount of existing vehicle traffic on the access road.”

Parks Canada officials say the gondola proposal was on the radar long before Liricon’s parking lot proposal.

“The management plan allows for the feasibility of a tramway to be explored,” said Sheila Luey, acting superintendent for Banff National Park.

“We provided a terms of reference for the feasibility study to Norquay,= some time ago. We haven’t seen that feasibility study.”

The other part of Waterous development plans calls for a heritage railway district to the west of the 1910 federally recognized heritage train station, which would include commercial businesses.

The Waterous’ envision using pre-First World War structures originally linked to rail travel to house commercial businesses, among other things. One of those buildings is the 106-year-old icebox – one of the few remaining original refrigerator buildings in Western Canada – which the couple stepped in at the 11th hour to save last year when CP planned to demolish it.

“It could be washrooms, it could be a coffee shop, it could be a restaurant. I can’t go further and say exactly what those buildings will be used for because we’re not at that place in the process,” said Waterous. “It is a pedestrian-only area that we saw as evolving into somewhat of a town square for members of the community to gather.”

The vision behind the Waterous proposal, including an intercept parking lot, is their quest to see the return of passenger rail from Calgary to Banff.

During the heyday of rail travel, up to seven trains arrived daily at the Banff station. Passenger rail service was discontinued because VIA, a Crown corporation established in 1977, was losing money on it.

The municipalities of Canmore, Cochrane, Calgary, Banff and ID9, as well as Alberta Transportation, are currently reviewing a draft of the report of a feasibility study they commissioned on the return of passenger railway.

Once the review is complete, consultants will incorporate final comments in the document, which will be released to the public some time in April.

“Adam and I have spent most of our time working with our friends at CP Rail and working with others to look at the feasibility of that,” she said.

“It is something we are very hopeful about. We don’t think it’s an ‘if” it’s going to happen, we think it’s a ‘when’ it’s going to happen.”

With files from Paul Clarke

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